Bon Appetit: Chicago ’s Gastropub Boom
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Bon Appetit: Chicago ’s Gastropub Boom

By Elaine Glusac

Chicago is renowned for its neighborhood saloons, Average Joe bars once ubiquitous on residential corners. But Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration aims to stanch local taps, banning new liquor licenses in parts of 42 of the city’s 50 wards — unless the bar serves food. The result: the rise of the “gastro pub,” that British invention that combines excellent food and the casual setting of a bar. These newer kitchen-taverns generate all the atmosphere of streetcorner Chicago with the added sustenance of outstanding meals. Cheers!

The Hopleaf Bar ( 5148 N. Clark St. , 773-334-9851) in leafy Andersonville on the North Side specializes in international craft brews, 100 alone from Belgium . A brick-walled dining room recently appended to the barroom serves a brew-friendly menu including duck confit cakes and organic ribeye steaks. Locals line up for the mussels steamed in Belgian white ale, served with a mini-baguette and frites.

In the gentrifying South Loop district, the walnut-paneled Grace O’Malley’s (1416 S. Michigan Ave., 312-588-1800) joins the Irish pub pack with staples-to-sophisticated fare ranging from shepherd’s pie to a Guinness-cured pork chops with braised cabbage. Tourists come over from the nearby Museum Campus and Mayor Daley himself frequents the Sunday brunch.

Chef Patrick Robertson, late of the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills , devised the ambitious menu at downtown’s Rockit Bar & Grill ( 22 W. Hubbard St. , 312-645-6000) to include seasonal seared halibut over succotash and the upscaled Kobe beef burger with foie gras. Trendier than most — with the plasma TVs and young blood to prove it — Rockit swings rustic-chic with tree stump cocktail tables and antler chandeliers.